|Whit Merrifield singles to right field to score Scott Wingo in the 2010 CWS|
Enter 2011. The Gamecocks have to deal with the departure of ace pitchers Blake Cooper and Sam Dyson as well as the aforementioned Whit Merrifield. While this team did return players like Jackie Bradley Jr., Adrian Morales, and Scott Wingo, the road to the 2011 College World Series was not a particularly easy one.
Before the season began, pitcher Nolan Belcher was lost for the season due to tommy johns surgery. That bad news came with a little good news as catcher Brady Thomas was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. Throughout the season, the team dealt with numerous other injuries. Jackie Bradley (wrist), Adam Matthews (hamstring), Evan Marzilli (intermittent rapid heartbeat). All these issues forced the Gamecocks to jockey positions during the year to deal with the frequent loss of players. However, it was the loss of Jackie Bradley in late April where the team developed the mantra "win anyway," and the most famous...battle.
The Gamecocks won every series in 2011, except Ole Miss. They racked up a 20-8 conference record. In a normal year, that would be an SEC title, but Florida and Vanderbilt joined Carolina on their title pedestal after also reaching 20-8 marks (USC won the series against UF and Vandy, so we know who are the real champs). Similar to 2010, the Gamecocks quickly exited the SEC Tournament. After winning their first game against Auburn, the Gamecocks were chased out with consecutive losses to Vandy and Georgia.
Fortunately, unlike last year, the Gamecocks were already in a good position to lock up a national seed in the NCAA tournament as a result of their spectacular regular season record (45-14). USC knocked out Georgia Southern and Stetson (twice) to move on to the Super Regional. For a moment, it looked as if it could be USC vs. Clemson - what would have been an emotionally charged Super Regional. But after losing the lead and dropping a game to the UConn Huskies, the Tigers lost a second consecutive game, thereby ending their season and sending the Huskies to Columbia.
Concerns swirled over the Gamecocks facing the red-hot Huskies squad. With deceivingly not-close scores of 5-1 and 8-2, USC sent UConn packing after two games. South Carolina was Omaha bound for a second consecutive year.
Like last year...I spent much of the College World Series at the USC Summer Music Camp. The Gamecocks won their first opening College World Series game since 1977. After an error filled first inning, USC cooled down and beat the Texas A&M Aggies 5-4 with a walk off hit by none other than the eventual "Most Outstanding Player," Scott Wingo. The Gamecocks made easy work of the Virginia Cavaliers two days later, beating them 7-1. Thankfully, music camp was over by Friday so I was able to get a few more grey hairs watching the 13 inning, 3-2 thriller over UVA which sent USC back to the championship series.
As reward for beating Virginia, South Carolina earned a date with Florida, one of the top teams entering the 2011 season, let alone the College World Series. To sum up the Gators, last years Friday starter for Florida, is(was) now a midweek starter. Yeah.
Pitchers dueled for many innings as UF held a 1-0 lead for the majority of game one. In the eighth, USC tied it up at 1 each. This game was defined again by heroic play from numerous players. There was Jake Williams, the left-fielder with admittedly the weakest arm of the outfield, launching a ball back to home plate for Robert Beary to tag out Cody Dent. And Scott Wingo, not once, but twice diving on a ball to throw back to home and get out the lead runner. All these things happened in a bases loaded, do or die situation. USC knocked off Florida to win game one 2-1 in 11 innings. Oh wait, do you know how USC scored that second run? Christian Walker, who fractured his hamate bone in his last at bat versus UVA on Friday, strolled in to home after two consecutive Florida throwing errors. For most of the day it appeared as if Christian was done and wouldn't play again this season.
On three days rest, ace Michael Roth took the mound on Tuesday. He threw 7 2/3 innings, only allowing one run. For my hair color and heart health, I am glad this game ended in nine innings with a final tally of 5-2.
|Gamecocks dog-pile after beating the Gators 5-2, winning the 2011 CWS|
Some of the record breaking stats to come out of this College World Series:
- The Gamecocks were the first team to go10-0 in an NCAA tournament and the first to go undefeated in the tournament since Miami went 9-0 in 2001
- Carolina has won 16 straight NCAA tournament games, which breaks the record of 15 set by Texas in 1983-84.
- With the previous new record, comes another. Carolina has won 11 straight CWS games (6 in 2010 and 5 in 2011), which breaks the record of 10 held by S.Cal (1972-74) and LSU (1996-98).
WIN ANYWAY - Go Gamecocks!
Here is a collection of links covering the Gamecocks 2nd National Title:
- Omaha Falls in Love with South Carolina - Ryan McGee, ESPN
- ESPN Game 2 recap
- ESPN CWS Game 2 Video Recap
- Celebration Just as Sweet Second Time Around - Diamond Leung, ESPN
- Collection of in-game tweets, The Columbia Sun
- Gamecocks Repeat History - Kendall Rogers, Perfect Game
- Collection of CWS articles - Travis Haney, Charleston Post and Courier
- Gamecocks Dominate Florida - Aaron Fitt, Baseball America
- USC Completes Historic Sweep - Neil White, The State
- CWS Notes - Ron Morris & Neil White, The State
- USC Wills Itself to Championship - Ron Morris, The State
- Roth's Journey Just Beginning - Joe Lemire, SI.com
- South Carolina Tops Florida Again - AP, NCAA.com
- The Right Decision at the Right Time - Ron Morris, The State
- SEC's Multi-Sport Dynasty Can't Be Ignored - Jon Solomon, The Birmingham News
- Gamecocks' Repeat Caps Another Stellar Sports Year for the SEC - Dennis Dodd, CBS Sports
- Top 25 from 2011 - David Cloninger, GamecockCentral.com
And now Cocky...In the Air Tonight